How to take care of yourself so you can avoid burn-out and keep your spark as a teacher - useful for non-teachers too!
There’s no doubt that, amongst other things, teaching yoga is an act of service, and as the Bhagavad Gita tells us, it’s not about the ‘fruits’ of our actions, but the intention and action itself that matters. Offering a yoga practice means being there for a whole group of people, sharing knowledge, guiding them, helping them, gaining their trust, and ultimately helping them help themselves. Teaching yoga can be hugely rewarding – teachers often make strong connections with their students, and we have the opportunity to really help people and make a difference.
With such a huge amount of responsibility of caring for others, it comes as no surprise that yoga teachers can often feel drained, burned out and empty after giving so much. If you’ve taken on a whole lot of classes and 1-to-1's, are constantly travelling to different studios and gyms, offering workshops and retreats, and maybe even your own teacher training course, it really is common to feel a little lost, lonely, sore and somewhat ‘empty’ at times.
This is why the Yoga Teacher Self Care checklist is so important: in order to be able to give fully, teachers must be full themselves. Caring for others means caring for yourself first, showing up for yourself first, in order to then show up fully for others.
In order to be able to give fully, teachers must be full themselves.
So, take a look at the list below. Are you checking off each of these points regularly? Add your own in the comments section below and let’s support each other!
1Make time for your practice:
Even if it’s a couple of minutes of slow breathing, five Sun Salutations, or one round of chanting, make sure you do something each day for yourself. One of the biggest issues teachers have is that they often don’t have as much time for their own practice as they used to. A practice however, doesn’t have to mean spending an hour sweating it out on the yoga mat. Anything that helps keep you full, focused and present is worth doing each day.
2Know when to say no:
There are many people who would tell you to take all the opportunities you can get, cover everyone’s classes and do it all for free. The thing is, yoga teachers can’t live off of thin air… We need to pay for food and shelter too! If you find your schedule is getting a little too hectic and the quality of your classes is suffering because of the quantity, consider reducing some of the things that seem to be taking up more energy than they’re worth. Sure, it’s great helping as many people as possible, but not if you’re harming yourself - remember Ahimsa here, the first Yama of Patanjali’s Eight Limbed Yoga system, and something you’re likely to have first learned on your yoga teacher training.
The ‘Clean Eating' movement may have started off with good intentions but has received criticism for encouraging us to swap nutritious calories for empty meals. While many people come to yoga to find solace from the pressures of living up to looking ‘good enough’, body image issues are still common and the ‘Insta-yogi’ type of image that we’re all familiar with on social media can make things worse. The fact is, though, if you’re using your body, you need to fuel up. Choose fresh, vibrant foods that you love, full of life force or ‘prana’. What you put in, you’ll get out, so eat well to live well.
It goes without saying that we all notice the difference when we haven’t slept well. A busy schedule of evening classes and an early morning practice can take its toll on the body and mind, so develop a routine that gets you into bed ASAP in the evenings. Give yourself permission to sleep a little longer in the mornings if you’ve had a late night, and your body will thank you in the long run. Foods like kiwis, cherries, bananas, walnuts, almonds, organic dairy products and specifically the nutrients magnesium and tryptophan can all contribute towards sleeping well. Ayurveda suggests not napping in the day time, as it can disrupt the body’s rhythms and make it difficult to get to sleep at night. If you’re tired in the daytime, instead, try Yoga Nidra for ten to twenty minutes (it’s said to be as effective as a full night’s sleep). Just make sure you stay awake!
When we’re sleeping, we’re not necessarily resting - we’re dreaming, processing, tossing and turning - so spending purposeful time getting some good quality rest is important. Again, Yoga Nidra can be a wonderful way to reset the brain and body, as can some deeply nourishing restorative yoga poses, or a seated meditation practice as opposed to a dynamic asana series. Many yoga teachers note that after teaching for a while, their practice dramatically changes; they often crave a more gentle, still approach and appreciate Savasana a whole lot more!
6Find a good bodyworker:
Aches and pains are almost guaranteed if you use your body every day in your job. Many injuries yoga teachers experience are the result of demonstrating something without fully paying attention to their body in that moment. Find a massage therapist, ayurvedic practitioner, osteopath or kinesiologist who you can trust to help you when you need it most.
7Open your mind to other movement practices:
Flexibility is great, but not when it’s the only thing you’re practicing. Years of stretching without any strengthening can lead to a worn out body and sometimes serious injury. It’s important to balance a yoga practice with other forms of movement, such as swimming, cycling, resistance training or weight lifting, hiking, or martial arts. The number one rule: Do something you enjoy!
8Do something that isn’t yoga:
Much like the body needs different forms of movement, the mind needs different sorts of stimulation. Reading fiction or poetry, watching a film, taking a walk somewhere different and soaking up the surroundings, travelling, having a long conversation with friends over dinner, painting, playing an instrument, or learning something new that you’re actually pretty terrible at can create new neural connections and breathe a breath of fresh air into the soul.
From a mentor, friend or fellow teacher – find someone who knows a little about what it’s like to be in your position so you can talk openly with them about how you’re doing. In cities where yoga is popular, there are often yoga teacher support or mentoring groups to join, and if you don’t know of one – consider starting one yourself!
10Be true to you:
There’s a fine balance between adhering to what a studio asks you to do and selling your soul. If you find you’re losing sight of your true intentions when it comes to teaching, consider if you’re in the right place. Are you repeating old, worn out sequences? Are you teaching fast, strong classes because you’re worried your students will be ‘bored’, when you’d rather be teaching slow, alignment-based sessions? Take time to check in; your teaching career will be so much more sustainable and enjoyable if it comes from your heart rather than your head.
11Do your best & let go of the rest:
Worrying about whether your students are enjoying the class, agonising over why that woman in the front row looks like she’s having a completely terrible time, ruminating over that mistake you made on the ‘right side’, or the posture you left out when teaching the ‘left side’, are all things that happen. And that’s exactly the thing; they’ve happened, and they’re done. So often teachers finish a class and wish they’d said something different or changed something else, but hanging on to the past is wasted energy, so instead of counting mistakes, grow from everything you learn. It’s all a process!
12Remember why you practise:
Most importantly, before you stand in front of a class to share a practice, take a deep breath, check in with yourself, arrive, be present, and remember why you’re here in the first place.
Take 45 minutes out of your day for this Hatha yoga and meditation class with Sandra Carson.